The Way We Know
The omission of the Unity of differences.
There is only one way of knowing.
The Sciences seek Philosophy and Religion apply ultimate principles.
AT the close of our last lecture I ventured to suggest that the cause of the failure of the attempts at reconciling the demands of religion with the facts of human experience except by compromising either the perfection of God or denying the reality of evil—and of finite existence—was a wrong view of the implications of contrast. The unity that makes contrast possible is overlooked. The nature of that unity its relations to its contents how both it and its elements can be real—these are among the more difficult problems both of philosophy and religion. And we must confront them; but in the meantime what we have to observe is the omission and the results of the omission of all reference to any unity behind or rather within the contrasted elements. We were occupied in the first place with the contrast between the data and consequently between the methods of the natural sciences and of a science of religion and the argument of those who deny the possibility of applying scientific methods to religious phenomena on the ground of the uniqueness of those phenomena. Nor do I wish to deny the validity of their argument: method does and must depend on material. Nevertheless the differences of method that thus arise are relatively superficial; there is in the end only one way of knowing. Wise men and simple religious and irreligious scientific and vulgar the intuitive and the ratiocinative mind the affirmative believer and the negative sceptic all employ the same ultimate means of ascertaining the truth or the falsity of an appearance and of comprehending facts. They all employ reason and reason has always its own way of acting. The same method however may be put to a more or less clear or confused perfect or imperfect use and it is within these limits that it varies with the range and character of the data and with the purposes which the enquiry is intended to serve. The method of reason or the way in which the intellect does its work is exemplified in every judgment that man makes and expressed in every complete sentence written or spoken. It consists we may say in exposing the elements within the unity of a judgment making their presence explicit; or in revealing the unity by indicating the interdependence of the elements which constitute it. As a matter of fact every sentence we form exemplifies both this (so-called) analytic and synthetic movement. And as a result of knowing the system of our more or less sane and coherent experience is enriched by the harmonious inclusion of some new appearance or else by a fuller exposition of its contents. On the whole the sciences exemplify the former way. Their progress broadly considered consists in their application to new facts (as we say) or in the discovery at the heart of some fresh particular of the presence of the dominating principle. The particular becomes an example of a law. The progress of philosophy and of religion and of all reflective thought is of the second kind. The implications of experience are brought out and the principles operative in its formation are the objects of first interest. Religion and philosophy start from these ultimate principles live in their presence follow them out as they exemplify themselves in particular facts and events. The reference to them is always direct and immediate. For the sciences the ultimate principle is a terminus ad quem something reached after. They proceed synthetically as we say and they seem to the superficial observer to create and establish relations that are new and to invent colligating conceptions. They work upwards towards universals it is thought and are in pursuit of the illuminating vision which religion and philosophy profess to have in their hands from the first.
But really they are all both synthetic and analytic.
No ultimate contrast of method between them.
Beyond this difference I know no other between the methods of the finite sciences and those of philosophy or of religious experience and even this difference will not bear pressing. For as a matter of fact every movement of knowing is at once (not merely consecutively) both synthetic and analytic. Every science carries with it from the first “the law” which it is seeking to find exemplified in the facts. It has its own unique and absolutely indispensable hypothesis. There is no science till there is a hypothesis on its trial. No science consists in a collection of facts however similar and no science is purely descriptive or is the result solely of observation. Hence on no hand is the contrast between the conditions of research in secular and religious phenomena anything more than relative. It is a contrast within or of the elements of a deeper unity. The contrast which was represented as an obstacle in the way of scientific enquiry in the religious field is real enough within its limits but it is not absolute nor prohibitive.
But inasmuch as the possibility of applying scientific method to religion is a vital question it may be well to dwell for a moment upon another aspect of it.
The whole of the rational self enters into its thinking and doing.
In every case of knowing all the powers of mind are employed and they are employed upon a datum or object which participates in a vital way in the knowing process. So far as I know there are now no surviving examples of the psychologist who avows belief in the existence and activity of separate faculties; but on the other hand neither are there many psychologists who do not make use of the conception of separate faculties. Occasionally an attempt is made to give priority to feeling or to the intellect or to will—the will is probably the favourite of the moment. But on the whole I think we may dogmatize on this matter and pass on our way. We may assume that the self is one and whole in all that it does. After all it is the personality A B or C who feels knows or wills; and personality is not an entity hiding behind the faculties and looking on as they work.
I turn to the second point mentioned and accentuate the fact that the cognitive powers are always employed upon and helped by data or objects supposed to be “given.” No one ever thought of nothing recognized as such. We can no more know or try to know without the apparent resistance of an object than we can walk without the resistance of the ground. Moreover the object of a knowing process guides that process. The object opens one way and blocks up another; for the subject's knowing of an object is the object's process of self-revelation through the medium of the subject. The nature of facts is shown in that which they compel the observing intelligence to see; or in other words objects are what they do in relation to one another and to the mind. We recognize them by their functions. They do not stand aloof from the changes or the process through which they pass—with the process in front and the fact itself “behind.” If they did then the process would be impossible and the fact unknowable. Processes apart from facts and facts aloof from their activities are abstractions—the products of a way of thinking which not only distinguishes but severs and annihilates. They are the results of tearing up a unity and in doing so destroying its elements.
Every mind brings with it its own presuppositions.
But minds differ most widely in the conceptions (or experience) which they bring to the facts and in the light of which they have no choice but to interpret them. And no human mind observes the whole of a fact at any time; for every fact is finally explicable only in the light of the universe to which it is related. It follows that there is no fact which we do not observe through the medium of presuppositions—presuppositions be it noted which enter into the constitution of mind and affect all it does. Some of these presuppositions are true and some false some of them relevant and some of them not but all of them are more or less formative and constructive. The result is that the data of experience are like wet clay in the hands of men. They signify little or much according to the mind and character which moulds and makes use of them. This is what is meant by saying that “the mind brings with it what it sees”—a truth which is illustrated every day in the differing interests and purposes and capacities of men.
The “subconscious region.”
In the next place most of our presuppositions especially of those presuppositions which play a decisive part in determining the direction of our lives are unconsciously entertained and their truth has never been examined. We are as little aware of their presence and of their activity as is the healthy man of his digestive apparatus. Psychologists who speak of consciousness as if it were extended and refer to it as a “field” have invented “a subconscious region” in which these presuppositions abide and from which they may emerge at times. As a matter of fact there is no such region and there are no such denizens. Consciousness is a process. And every process of mind reacts upon the structure and powers of the mind persists in the results it has produced and in that form is carried into and takes part in the present activities of the Ego. Everything that we do not happen to think about at the moment and which has been an element of our previous experience is subconscious in this sense but the moment it is the object of our attention it ceases to be subconscious.
What we have now to observe is that in this respect also while ordinary and scientific learned and unlearned secular and religious men look at the world with minds which differ deeply still the difference is the surface of an identity. All men alike are oblivious of the greater part and the deeper meanings of facts and all alike make their own selection. Were it not that they live under the influences of the same age and that they are heirs to the same social inheritance traditional or other fashioned by the same creeds and habits men could not understand one another nor live by means of one another. But in virtue of these influences the differences between them become superficial and secondary. In the end the same kind of mental powers are employed by all and they are employed in a way and under final conditions which are the same. Some minds I need hardly say are more imaginative emotional intuitive judicious etc. etc. than others; and psychology cannot well omit speaking of “faculties” as if they were more or less separate. In truth these mental powers can neither exist nor act in complete independence or isolation so long as there is sanity. There can be no judgment where there is no memory and no memory where there has been no judgment. There is neither memory nor judgment nor observation nor ratiocination nor intuition except where there is coherence—the coherence of a system which is the more or less adequate expression of a single sane and purposeful experience.
The ultimate condition of knowledge is a subject and object indiscerptibly related.
Further any fact or datum of which we become aware in any way even as a mere “this” calling for explication already bears the marks of the working of our minds upon it. It already has a double aspect. It is it is an “object” standing over against us and it has some more or less vague meaning value or interest for us. In a word we never do get back to the manifold or mere sensation nor to an “undifferentiated continuum.” Nor has psychology the least right to attribute a cognitive function to feeling. We cannot even imaginatively justify the dualism of pure Ego and pure datum. We do not know what a subject having no object or an object of no subject could be. We have never discovered either except in relation to its other. From beginning to end we detect them only in their interaction. We are born into and awake within a world which has been for countless centuries moulded by men; we come into it equipped with a mental apparatus at the forming of which centuries of civilization have been engaged.
The premisses of an intuition is the whole fused and united self.
The differences between men and their intellectual methods are thus relatively shallow. They fall within a deeper unity. No contrast is absolute. There is nothing quite unique. The unique were the unknowable. We speak of intuitive minds as if there were some men to whom the laborious processes of ratiocination were a mere cumbersome redundancy. As a matter of fact the musician and painter and poet can as little do without observation and judgment purposeful reason and will as they can without their intuitions. Their intuitions are always the fruition of a toilsome experience. And what is true of the aesthetic is not less true of the religious spirit. I have no difficulty in admitting not only that there are markedly intuitive minds and that aesthetic and religious experience gives ample evidence of what is called “intuitive apprehension”; but also that the steps of that method even if they do exist separately cannot be separately indicated and described by psychology. Intuition leaves no footmarks. The musical movement arises within the soul possesses it possibly to intoxication and passes away. It has not been summoned and it cannot be retained by any act of will. The significance of conception of the Fatherhood of God the consciousness of the overwhelming presence of a boundless and everlasting love these sudden inundations are familiar to the religious mystic and they have been experienced by some very humble and inconspicuous followers of what is right and they are in a sense quite inexplicable. We cannot break up the experience into the separate steps of a more or less continuous or prolonged process. But they are inexplicable only in the same sense as the breaking into blossom of the plant is inexplicable. The bud is there to-day and the rose blushes: they were not there yesterday. But the conditions were present and they were in operation. The change had its causes and we can point these out. Similarly as to the intuitions of Art and Religion. Their roots conditions causes are real; they are elements of experience. Indeed to call religion the noblest blossoming of human experience were not a bad definition of it.
An intuition rests upon previous judgments though we cannot trace them.
What is characteristic of intuition is not the absence of the conditions of a new experience but the fulness of their presence and the intense fusion of their functions. Mind is never so really at one as in its intuitive activities. Nor at any other time is the past experience so fully present and living and active. Intuitions are the emanations of a past experience. They come only to minds or dispositions that are saturated with their conditions. They do not come out of the blue. They are not without their premisses; little as we are able to point them out when they occur. They are examples of “judgment” expressions of mind and character and in the end differ in nothing that is fundamental from the laborious activities of slow minds. Just as all the parts of the body are involved more or less directly in every physiological process so it is with mind. But with this distinction—as I may try to show more fully hereafter—that the parts of the mind if we may use the phrase differ from one another in a more far-reaching way than the parts of the body; and at the same time that the former interact and interpenetrate and form a unity that is much more intense. In no kind of experience whether secular or religious are any of these powers omitted as redundant. Whatever differences of method of enquiry and progress there may be they fall within the unity of personality.
Mind is always receptive as well as formative.
And man's world is always pressing its gifts upon him.
Mind is we may further point out receptive as well as creative in both its natural and its spiritual experience. It can itself furnish the data for neither. It professes to find the facts not to fabricate them. Not one step can it go beyond the given. Man as an intelligence is as completely shut within his world and has as completely borrowed from his world all the material of which he is made as he is as a physical being. He cannot step outside of it. The man who is in advance of his age owes his advance to his age and is really its best product. The powerlessness of man which religious apologists have accentuated in order to emphasize the unconstrained freedom of divine benevolence is not confined to the spiritual world. Man is as little creative he is as dependent on that which is granted him as much an almsman standing at the door of a benevolent power in the natural as he is in a spiritual sense. I have somewhere compared the soul of man to a city with many gates situated on a plain and besieged by the benevolent powers of his world. Both nature and spirit both the world of things and the world of men are perpetually proffering their gifts to him and in the most diverse ways. If their truth and beauty and value cannot get in by one gate they may by another. If they cannot force a passage panoplied in the armour of reason they may creep in through the darkness and silence like the mist into Milton's Eden. The aesthetic sense may give them entrance. He who is slow to hear the voice of truth speaking of morality and religion and who is callous to all reasoning may hear them in music or recognize their appeal in colour and form. The truth I would impress is the friendliness of the world to man the co-operation and final identity of the purposes of nature and spirit. The contrast is real but it is not absolute.
Intensity of the interdependence of spiritual facts.
It could be proved I believe that no facts are more interdependent than those of mind—the facts of knowledge morality art and religion. There is far less evidence of “It does not matter to me” on the higher than there is on the lower levels of mental life or spiritual life. It is the “Good” Shepherd that goes into the wilderness to seek the hundredth sheep. It is the enlightened and illumined spirit in which the purposes of its times throb and whose good or ill fate is its own. Below the domain of mind apart from the marvellous fact of Motherhood animal and human in the region we call natural there is relative independence and mutual externality. It is the region of comparative indifference even though it is true that “we cannot change the position of a pebble without moving the centre of gravity of the Universe.” In the region of mind and spirit of truth goodness and beauty the contrasts are deeper but the interpenetration and interaction of the elements are also greater. No differences are deeper no antagonisms more direct or uncompromising than those of the spirit of truth and of falsehood or of the wicked and virtuous will. On the other hand there is no unity so deep and indiscerptible as that of the mind or spirit or of the “personality” which conceives the truth or falsehood and does the right or wrong. Destroy the rational soul and there is nothing either true or false good or evil; let it work out its destiny and it may express itself in ways whose difference material estimates cannot measure.
The ‘secular content’ of the religious life and the dependence of philosophy on ordinary experience.
I have already spoken of the concentration and intensification of interests which is the practical result of religion and the theoretical result of philosophy. Religion when it consecrates man's secular energies and powers reconstitutes them and philosophy casts a new light upon a man's world. Such indeed is their true function. But all the same to sever the religious from the secular life or philosophy from common-sense as is too often done is to take away the kernel and leave only the shell. Except as the consecration of the secular life and the new use of inner and external circumstance religion has no value or function and except as the reflective re-interpretation of experience philosophy has no cogency or truth. To sever religion from ordinary life or philosophy from the experience of the scientific and of the plain man were to empty them of their content. So that the contrast between these is at once the deepest of all contrasts at the same time it is constitutive of them. Religion and Philosophy are in a sense nothing more than points of view—man's Mount Nebo from which he may survey his wanderings in the wilderness of his Past and catch a glimpse of the land beyond his Jordan and at least conjecture the destiny of a being endowed he is with responsibilities and sleeping potencies. But the facts must be there: the scene must be before him. His religion must have what is temporal for its content. Except as re-interpreting re-directing transmuting the practical life of man it has little value. Has it any at all?
Low value of the life that is severed from Religion.
But on the other hand what value would the secular life retain if it were completely sundered from religion? Expunge all traces of religious belief; delete all the effects it has ever had in the life of man and of human society; extinguish the hopes it has kindled the fears it has awakened its restraints and its inspiration its trust in the ascendancy of what is good; reduce the meaning and reach of good to purely secular values how much of what man treasures most would remain? Is a genuinely irreligious consciousness entitled to regard the world as a cosmos and would any higher form of morality survive than that which is prudential and radically self-regarding and responsive to no imperatives that could be called duties? What is the range of the purely “natural” virtues of man? Could any virtue survive if an ultimate good were known not to exist? The moral lights would certainly be very low and man's strides to his ill-lit purposes would be hesitating. And would the conception or the hope or even the desire of immortality survive? Could man wish to extend his existence in a world where there was no Best in power; pursuing interests incapable of being reconciled all them perishable; the inequalities of the present life finally uncorrected and justice sitting powerless? For it is such a scene as that which the life of mankind presents if no spiritual principles connect its details and give them significance and if it terminates finally here.
Huxley on St. Paul's of the natural affections.
Huxley standing at the side of the grave of his little son was shocked at hearing the words of Paul—“If the dead rise not let us eat and drink for to-morrow we die.” “Paul” he said “had neither wife nor child or he must have known that his alternative involved a blasphemy against all that was best and noblest in human nature. I could have laughed with scorn.” Huxley was right in rejecting the Pauline alternative and in attributing high value to the natural affections. But the best and noblest in human nature of which he spoke were themselves the slow results of the faith in the possibility and power of the Best which religion is and of which mankind has never been altogether bereft. Human nature owes its sublimity to a faith in a sane order within which failures are not necessarily final. Destroy the possibility of the Best and the very thought of it secure the complete triumph of the secular spirit—one wonders what ties would bind human beings together in any form of society and what manner of love would remain between man and maid parent and child or neighbour and neighbour.
I venture to say that both believers and sceptics would be less ardent in their advocacy of their severed regions the one all sacred and the other all secular if they faced the meaning of the exclusive contrast somewhat more fully and frankly.
I do not deny the contrast: I do not even minimize it. I am trying rather to show the conditions of its possibility. It must rest on a deeper unity: or in other words its elements must fall within what comprehends them both and they must imply that unity in their very antagonism.
Difficulty of reconciling the demands of religion with the character of man as a “natural” being.
Man makes God in his own image but often draws a false picture of both.
This unity is not discoverable if we seek it in anything “beyond” their difference. It is not a thing standing by itself. It consists in their mutual interpenetration. But how shall we define it? What is the character of the bond that unites the divine and human as all religion and as the Christian religion so explicitly demands? What community of nature can exist between the Infinite and the Finite the Everlasting Real the Might and the Goodness that are Unlimited and man's petty and sin-stained phenomenal existence? Every detail of the work of the Being which men worship as the World's Creator every least fact that falls within man's comprehension extends also beyond it; we can touch only the outer rim of the secrets of the simplest natural phenomenon. There is infinite suggestion in everything and we know nothing fully. How then can we presume to know Him? Are not all our conceptions necessarily anthropomorphic? And how can anything that is true of man his mode of knowing little by little and at the best of learning goodness by petty stages—a life spent in the flux of time and change dying and being born again at every instant always making and never made—how can any figure we borrow from it be true of the static perfection usually attributed to the Deity? Our minds are not only influenced by they are built up of our own shifting experiences. We call our God—Leader in Battle Lord of Hosts Judge Father—we speak of him as angry as taking vengeance on his enemies as condemning approving caring for man all according to the level of culture we presume to possess and the mood we are in. What do we ever see except the reflection of our own faces? How dare we create our gods in our own image? What can bridge the difference that divides the Everlasting God from the passing show we call man? And yet when the religious consciousness is at its noblest height and is most worthy of man and will add most true in its testimony it makes man share the divine life. The infinite perfection of limitless love actually lives in man. Every good man is the Child of God and his life in its strivings for goodness is the divine perfection operating within him. God incarnates himself anew in all his children. What is merely human is lost to view. Even man's will his inmost being and ultimate self as we think it is swallowed up. “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Phil. ii. 13). “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God” (II Cor. iii. 5). “So now also Christ shall be magnified in my body whether it be by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. i. 20 21). Here is complete identification a losing of one's self in utter devotion and dedication and at the same time that marvellous recovery of the self which entitles man to say—“I and the Father are One.”
The contrast of morality and religion.
In the presence of such an amazing elevation of the human into union with the divine there is small wonder that the contrast even of the highest moral life with the religious has been regarded as final. The value of morality seems to sink into nothingness. The whole moral region is one scene of failure a striving that never attains. For does not the very striving rest on unsound principles? As moral man professes to work out his own salvation and instead of religious trust there is self-dependence.
Does not the contrast amount even to discrepancy? Morality leaves no room for God: man is the maker of his own destiny. Religion leaves no room for man: it is not I that live but Christ lives in me. And yet what value would we set upon a Religion that does not saturate the moral life and lift it into sublimity if it be great; or if it be a very humble life impart to it imperishable beauty?
The contrast solved in practice by truly religious men.
I believe you will agree with me that if we look in a simple and truthful spirit upon the lives which we would unhesitatingly call “religious” they possess both of these characteristics. They differ decisively from the lives we would regard as typically secular; and yet they are occupied and necessarily occupied with the same natural wants hemmed in like all other lives by space and time and the objects and events which jostle each other therein.
What solution can there be of a problem which demands at the same time a unity and a difference of such depth? For there is no doubt that religious faith demands both or that it loses both its truth and its worth in the degree in which either the unity or the difference of the secular and the sacred is reduced.